I’m Still Here

Just so you know, I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. I miss you guys!!

And, I’ve still been reading your blogs, commenting, liking, and sharing on Twitter and all that good stuff. I just have not been blogging but I am in tune. I don’t think I’ve spent this much time away from the blog since I’ve started! What in the world is going on?

A lot actually. Some good and some not so good. I definitley have a lot on my mind but let’s talk about the good.

Let me get you up to speed:

Blog Posts – I have some articles written up and saved in my files so I have still been writing and will have plenty for you soon. We’ll also get back into the usual blog segments, Black History Fun Facts, Throwback Jams, etcetera.

No laptop – You are not going to believe it but I have been traveling and left my laptop in Memphis! Here’s how it happened: While leaving my in-laws, I saw the bag in the trunk of the car  and thought the laptop was in it instead of checking to make sure it was. Long story short, I won’t get it back until next week sometime so all those blog post ideas we just talked about are uhh….stuck in Memphis.

Introduce Yourself – This thing is growing! I think I may put a listing somewhere so you can see what dates are available. Would you like that? Authors? Right now I am booking for August. (Wait, no. There may be one more slot left for July) That’s just how much it’s grown! Because of this, despite my absence, you can look forward to being introduced to a new author and his/her work every Monday. Those are scheduled to go out so even if I am not around you’ll get those. (This feature also introduces established authors as well or authors who are not necessarily new.)

Travels – So, where did I go?? Out the country? Nope. I wish! I went to Chicago and Memphis but I’ll give you the short version.

Ethiopian Diamond

In Chicago, I sat in on a Lecture presentation at the Dusable Museum of African American History, visited some family and ate at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurant downtown for the first time. (Despite growing up in Chicago I’ve never eaten there.) For those of you who have never been or have never had Ethiopian food, the style is like a community where everyone at the table eats with their hands from a large platter of food (see image). While everyone can order their own food, it is all on the same platter and designed to be a sociable experience. I can honestly say there were no looking down at the phones. There were a few of us so we were at different tables and at my table we had three large platters. On the bottom is a flat, round stretchy pancake-like injera bread with the other dishes on top in a circle.

These dishes include a combination of several stews like key wat (beef stew), tibs (lamb, beef or goat cubes which is what I had), ground beef (those beef patties or whatever you call them were delicious), and several types of lentil and split pea and tomato stews. You basically tear off pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up food you want to eat. Don’t just stick your hands in like I did at first lol. All in all, I enjoyed the food, the tangy flavor of the injera, the stews, salads, and of course, the quality family time.

Coffee – Speaking of which, the restaurant let us take home a container of coffee beans! Hubby and I had fun roasting them ourselves the other day. It was easier than I thought. Just brown them in a cast iron skillet (don’t put anything in it) and once they brown to your liking (dark roast, etc) grind them up in a coffee grinder and bam, coffee.

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I thought it would be stronger since we made dark roast but it was flavorful nonetheless.

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Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation

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I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

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Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is a completely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional but what I did feel cannot be put into words. I will say for now that appreciation is my best way of describing it. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what my ancestors would be doing at that time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines.

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Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.

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The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.

The Overseer’s House

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Overseers were the middlemen of the antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave master and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over his breathern. In any event, the masters expected them to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce crop. The slaves were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to live just a few scraps better than the enslaved, such as occupy his own cabin.

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Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!

I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.

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Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers

After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. A tenant farmer is a person who farms rented land, like a sharecropper. The only difference is that Tenant farmers sometimes owned something (a small home, farm tools, a horse or mule) whereas sharecroppers were practically slaves and owned very little to nothing at all.

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Wash House

Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in the wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress.

(All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer. Can you say gratitude?)

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Bemuda Store

Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.

(1983?!)

The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also operated the Post Office located inside.

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Carpenter Shop

Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.

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Mule Barn

Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, they reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.

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Cane Syrup Pot

Used to make cane syrup.

On some plantations, these style pots were also used to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie Mandingo. CLICK HERE to see the clip.)

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The Big House

Porch and perimeter of The Big House, or the Masters House. We could tour everywhere except the house. We were not allowed inside and was not given a reason as to why.

It was something just to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees line the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.

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Strangers Room

I don’t know what the strangers room is (Guest Room?) but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. Looks like the original furniture is still preserved.

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Carriage House

The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.

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Square Corn Crib and Cistern

Built around 1821 of hand hewn cypress logs, the corn crib was used to store grain for the plantation. Rain water was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.

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Pigeoneer

There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”

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Chicken Coop

Hubby checking out the Chicken Coop.

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Fattening Pen

Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.

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Randoms

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What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually I’d be going home to a hot shower and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What it’s like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back breaking work.

I looked at the children as they played and thought about how any of them could be taken away from their parents and sold at any moment. All of this is truths to which I am already familiar. But being there and standing in that spot produced a greater understanding of what it may have been like to live in that time.

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My revelations were not just in relation to the dark history. As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on it. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From our own shelters, to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.

Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as ignorant as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the physical things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me from generation to generation.


Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. A week off for me is like a month so let me get this sleep in now so I can get back to work. In the meantime, I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.

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Stella Spring Giveaway: The Grand Prize Winner!!

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I am proud to announce the Grand Prize Winner of The Stella Trilogy Spring Giveaway! Today’s winner is really special and close to my heart, its my baby sister! Abiyah Ysrayl aka Princess. It was hard gathering pics of her where she’s actually smiling! LOL I know you a warrior baby girl but I need you to show those pearly whites today cause you did that. Abiyah is so supportive and it paid off. This contest was so perfect but I’ll detail that in the next post. So anyway, baby sis was Entry #77 which is funny because she’s a twin AND she snagged the #1 Spot so she got her double portion prize.

Congrats Baby Sis! You did that. Yaass.

Attention Black Women…

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I know too many women aborting their purpose

broken pearls at the feet of loneliness

the dispersion of a nation

like the tiny crystals in her smile

or the gleaming sun in her eyes

now the hand me down fabric of expired womanhood

dangling over the degrees of our bedroom walls

we traded our integrity

for dried ink on top cream colored paper

the folded crease and stained remembrance

of what we used to be

before the glass ceiling defined us

the faded glory of the black family unit

before we were Diva’s

and Bosses

back in the day

when we were just content being Queens

we traded our crowns

in exchange to do bad all by ourselves

now the stress

and the guilt

of 70% of black women

whose descendants will stare down the barrel of a gun

cause she couldn’t admit

that it takes more than a black mother

to raise a black son

Blood Line

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My nephew has my birthmark on his chest. My face has my mother’s nose, and my smile is etched with my father’s teeth. I interact with the world as if on my own. It never occurs to me that I swing my arms like my Aunt. Or that the decisions I make may have already been made before. After all, they say there is nothing new under the sun. I cannot swim. But maybe that’s because the Great Flood has traumatized me, for I can still taste salt water seas on my tongue. Have you ever thought about the make-up of a blood line? The reality that maybe you inherited these ways only to gift them to someone else one day. I smile at the thought. What would a little girl look like with my eyes, my words and my hands on her hips? How do I know my favorite tree in which to rest my exhausted spirit from the soles of the Earth did not bleed with the stench of my ancestors? And have I ever fathomed why Hurricanes take the exact same route as the slave ships? Can it be that suicides still burn like melted ash upon the ocean floor? Its smoke intermingled with the wind as if to intercourse themselves into one before marching out to the beat of Negro Spirituals I could have sworn I just heard on the radio last night. Or maybe that’s just the Harriet in me. Perhaps I may gather a collection of souls in my arms like the wind released of its chains, but only those who are willing to admit that they’re slaves.

Family Tree Chart: Character Development

So last week, in a post called 3 Reasons I am Not a Professional Author, I spoke about how I started using a Family Tree to build my characters. I do this using Microsoft Word which I am learning more and more about each day. Family Trees can also be done in Microsoft Power Point.

What this method helps me to achieve is a greater depth in character development. It helps me to create a background, a foundation if you will, for my characters so that they evolve into real living people and are not just stick men and women with names. By creating a background, I can better design the main character out of the genetics of the people that came before them. In this way, I am not just making people up, but they are coming from an ancestral bloodline of sorts. Your primary characters can actually have a lineage and a family to which they belong to go with the personality your writing gives them.

Over the course of this week, I have put together a sample Family Tree and a few steps to help you to get started. I thought I would be able to accomplish this over the weekend but quickly discovered it was a lot more work than I remembered. To make this as simple as possible I will give you the steps as to do this the easiest way possible (which is not exactly how I put mine together but it works). Please understand that this is just a sample and that you can go much deeper than what is presented.  To save time, I only scratched the surface here:

Step #1: WRITE

So if you read the previous post to which I mentioned this method, you know that I don’t use a timeline when I write. I start by writing the story as it comes to me. You can use this method either way. It is however, a good idea to start writing first because the juices start to flow and you have an idea of the characters you can start adding to the chart. Once I’ve written a few pages and I have an idea of the characters, I can then proceed to build on their lives by way of the timeline. All of this is simultaneously done as I’m writing so the timeline is not completely finished in one sitting. I may get to a point in the book where I want to switch some things around or change some names. In simplest form, I’m writing the story and using the family tree to organize my characters as I move along the process. The chart also helps me to sit back and take a full view of everyone even after the book is finished, to study the characters, and to recall names quickly. It’s easier for me to look at my chart instead of rely on memory or scan the document, to recall an important feature so as not to create inconsistencies when I’m writing. I know it seems like a lot and some of you are probably asking yourself, “Shouldn’t I just write so that the emotion and descriptive language  makes the characters realistic?” Of course. The chart does not replace writing in personality and all of that good stuff, it just helps with names and family history.

Step #2: OPEN MICROSOFT WORD

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Step #3: GO TO THE INSERT TAB

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Step #4: CLICK ON SMART ART (it is between Shapes and Chart in Microsoft 2007 & 2010)

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Step #5: When you get into Smart Art, CLICK ON THE HIERARCHY CHART and choose a chart

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Step #6: Start building, adding names and traits or whatever it is you want to add

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Remember that this is not a normal family tree. You don’t have to just add names but in this chart you will also add other important things about the character, such as height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.

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My Chart

OK so I hope that you can see this well. This is my chart which I created using a slightly different design than the Smart Art. I customized it and created my own boxes. I saved it as an image file and then used Microsoft Publisher to crop out the white spaces that come from Word.

In my chart, we see that Stella is named after her great grandmother Stella Mae.

When Blacks stepped off the slave ships and into the shoes of their new lives, their ancestral names were stripped away. After chattel slavery ended, one of the first signs of freedom was for slaves to change their names. Having started with just a first name, they wore the last names of their masters, in which the majority of them continued to wear after emancipation. Others altered their last names slightly after freedom to disassociate from their masters.  Another percentage went far as to just make up a last name, as in Booker T Washington’s case. According to his Autobiography, “Up From Slavery”,  Booker noticed while in class that many of the students had two names. So when the teacher called for his name he calmly announced “Booker Washington” so as to fit in. Later, he found out that his mother had named him “Booker Taliaferro”. And just like that he became Booker T. Washington:

“By the time the occasion came for the enrolling of my name, an idea occurred to me which I thought would make me equal to the situation; and so, when the teacher asked me what my full name was, I calmly told him “Booker Washington”, as if I had been called by that name all my life; and by that name I have since been called.”- Up From Slavery, Page 17, Boyhood Days

Instead of take on the last name Saddler, the first Stella decides to take the last part of her first name, Mae, and change it into May. Her family would then go on to be known as the May’s.

Interpretation of Chart:

  • Deborah was a slave on Paul Saddlers Plantation. They produce a daughter who Deborah names Stella Mae.
  • Stella Mae and John produce a son who Stella names Solomon Curtis. According to the chart, he inherits his father’s green eyes and black hair but this is an error on my part. His eyes are actually Brown like his mothers, but he inherits his father’s jet black hair.
  • Solomon goes on to have four girls: Deborah, Rebecca, Judith, and Sara.
  • Judith, the middle daughter, goes on to give birth to a daughter who she names Stella, after her grandmother.
  • We see that Judith inherits her green eyes from her father Solomon and her grandfather John. For the sake of space I did not include Judith’s mother in the sample chart; she is white.
  • Stella inherits her eye and hair color from her great great grandfather Paul. Stella’s father is also not included in the chart; he is black.

As genetics would have it, Stella is easily capable of easing on pass the color line by inheriting more external European features than African American.

3 Reasons I am Not a Professional Author

(The post where I originally mentioned this in case you missed it)

see also

Word to the Wise